Summer Nights

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer

I really should have my lawyer contact Zooey Deschanel.

After my divorce, I realized I needed to make some changes in my life. I had become too insular, content to just go home in the evenings and spend my time there. I had almost no social life outside those walls, which had been one thing when I shared them with someone, but was something else entirely then. So I decided to do something about it.

Specifically, I decided that I was going to accept any and all invitations. If someone asked if anyone wanted to go see a movie that night, I did. Wanna come by the house for a bit before the Cowboy Mouth concert? Sure. Waffle King after an improv show? OK. Kayaking? Check. And on and on. There were some evenings I’m just as glad I don’t have to repeat, but some of my best friends and favorite hobbies came out of that, as well.

So late last year, I went and watched Zooey Deschanel in Yes Man. Basically, the idea of the movie is that Jim Carrey makes a pledge to say yes to anything anyone asks him to do.

A funny coincidence. But then, this weekend, I went to see her latest movie, her next after Yes Man.

The one-line description on Fandango got me interested — “After his lover dumps him, a writer tries to figure out where their relationship went wrong.”

Well, yeah, OK, I can empathize. Tell me more, please.

You see, “After it looks as if she’s left his life for good this time, Tom Hansen reflects back on the just over one year that he knew Summer Finn. … For Tom, it was love at first sight … Soon, Tom knew that Summer was the woman with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. Although Summer did not believe in relationships or boyfriends … Tom and Summer became more than just friends.” Sure, sure.

And, yeah, there is a part of me that was amused when an EW columnist described the female lead as “an infuriating, commitment-phobic young woman.”

My curiosity piqued, I went to see it Sunday. And it’s nice to know that my life is pretty much interesting enough to float a movie.

Oh, sure, there were differences. The ex-Beatle that played a role in the movie story was Ringo Starr instead of George Harrison; the Regina Spektor music in the soundtrack was different. The circumstances around her catching the bouquet at the wedding they attended were not the same. But there was still a bench.

It actually was kind of funny, in a surreal way. In all seriousness, there were a lot of differences — the timetable of the 500 days of their story, for example, was very much not that of the last year and a half of my life. If we’d been very different people, it might have played out more that way, but we are who we are. On the flip side, the similiarities — it was odd to hear words I’d spoken, words spoken to me, play out almost verbatim as movie dialogue. And, ironically, the movie’s out-of-order chronology, that let you see a glimpse of the reunion before the break-up — well, even before the meeting — made me assume for a huge chunk of the film that it was even more like my life than it turned out to be.

A friend asked me afterwards what I got out of it. And, hey, you know, it is just a movie. Similarities in story aside, there are pretty substantial differences between the characters and their real-life equivalents, though I’ll admit I did see myself in some aspects of Tom, giving me things about myself that I’ll have to ponder.

But for the big picture, I guess, if anything, there’s this — life is life. Yeah, this was just a movie, but it was a self-aware one in that respect; acknowledging that this is not a typical love story, because real-life love stories don’t always come with Hollywood endings. There are no guarantees, only possibilities.

For those that aren’t me, I would still recommend the movie. It was funny and heart-wrenching and real.

And, of course, Zooey Deschanel doesn’t really have any insight into my life. The coincidences are just that. In fact, there’s even a disclaimer at the beginning noting that the movie is a work of fiction, and any similarity to real people is just a coincidence.

Still … care to guess how many days it was between the first time we had dinner together at P.F. Chang’s and the day that she last broke up with me?

An Ill Wind

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

I feel a bit guilty for enjoying the experience.

I remember being outside that night. I remember the wind and the rain. I remember how glorious it was — the raw experience of being in nature, with all its power and majesty. I remember enjoying it.

Elsewhere, people were losing their homes. Elsewhere, people were dying.

That night was Monday, August 29, 2005. It almost slipped past me this weekend that Saturday was the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall.

Four years ago, it was the most remote thing in the world. Sure, it was a big deal, but not one that affected me. I felt guilty that I had enjoyed something — the remnants of Katrina that blew over Huntsville — that had caused such devastation elsewhere, but that was it. It just wasn’t part of my life.

I first felt the wings of the butterfly that weekend, in the smallest of ways, and, looking back on my attitude, the pettiest. We had made plans for friends in Jackson, Miss,. to come visit that weekend. Given the situation in Jackson, which was still without power and would be for a while, where gasoline was a precious commodity when it could be found at all, and where people were, even that far inland, dealing with substantial damage, my friend decided not to come to Huntsville, and to try to help out there instead. And I, I’m ashamed to admit, was annoyed by the inconvenience.

I’m also a bit ashamed to admit that the next time Hurricane Katrina blew into my life, it was in a positive way. My then-wife Nicole got a job on a state contract working with Katrina evacuees in north Alabama. These were people who had been transported out of New Orleans; basically, they all boarded a bus, and were driven up Interstate 65. Along the way, they were dropped off basically randomly based on how many people could be housed there. Based on the luck of the draw, they might end up somewhere like Birmingham or Huntsville, or they might end up somewhere like Cullman. Nicole’s job was to help those people adjust to life after Katrina, either by helping them get settled or helping them move back. (I joked at the time that her job was to go around and be Tom Petty for her clients: “You don’t have to live like a refugee.”) It was a good job for her, and a contract that paid rather well.

The next significant time Katrina and I crossed paths was in October 2006, when I visited Stennis Space Center, the first time I’d been to the coast since landfall. It was very odd seeing the changes in Biloxi and Gulfport, where I’d visited several times during my Mississippi days. In some ways, it was hard to believe it had already been a year, in others, it was hard to believe it had only been a year. Some buildings looked like they must have immediately after the hurricane, while others (like, of course, casinos) had impressive new structures designed and built from nothing post-Katrina. It was interesting talking to people at Stennis about how their lives had been, and continued to be, different after Katrina.

Katrina would arguably even affect my life substantially at least one more time — the hurricane played some role in Susanna moving from Louisiana, and thus very possibly some role in her ending up in Huntsville. Without it, who knows whether we would have ever met. And the wings of the butterfly keep flapping …

So why did I start this post with a picture of my hiking? In the picture, I’m holding a hiking stick, one I bought in May 2006 in Jackson, Miss. I was on the only week-long vacation I’ve taken in my career, the time and money for which were made possible by Nicole’s state contract job. In an independent coffee shop there, I saw the stick for sale — handcrafted from wood felled during Hurricane Katrina. Given the circumstances that had led to us being there, we had to buy it. At the time, it was just a memento. I never used it as a hiking stick until this April, when I went for my first real hike, in the wake of further devastation that Katrina had helped blow into my life years later.

The stick is a reminder — of Katrina, specifically, and all the ways it touched my life, and, in general, that no man is an island, of how something that can seem completely remote and unconnected can end up changing one’s life in ways you could never anticipate.

And that even when the winds and rains come, it doesn’t mean it can’t be glorious.

They Also Soar …

Jose Hernandez

Jose Hernandez

My waiter is in space.

Now, there’s a sentence that I wouldn’t have anticipated writing a few years ago. But, there you go — the space shuttle Discovery is in orbit right now, docked with the International Space Station. And among the crew of Discovery’s STS-128 mission is astronaut Jose Hernandez.

As the child of migrant farm workers, Hernandez has an interesting story. But, for me, the coolest part of Jose (aka @Astro_Jose on Twitter) being in space now stems from my last encounter with him, not quite a couple of years ago.

Some coworkers and I were in Houston for an education conference and to meet with some officials at JSC, and asked some of our local contacts about good places to eat. Someone recommended Tierra Luna, which is owned by Hernandez and his family.

We knew about his ownership, then, before we went there, but, even so, were a bit taken off-guard when we got there. Sure enough, the guy that bussed our table was … well, I had to pull out my iPhone to make sure. (“Is that him?” “Surely that’s not him.” “That is him!”) We had an astronaut clean our table, take our order, bring our food. He was very — and I use this term too often in talking about astronauts, ironically — down-to-Earth; you would never have guessed that he was anything other than a member of the restaurant staff. When we acknowledged that we knew who he was, however, he was glad to talk to us about his “day job,” as well.

Hernandez was a really neat guy, and I’m very happy for him finally getting his trip into orbit. But, yeah, it’s also very cool to be able to know that right now, my waiter is in space.

STS-128 also has another bit of personal connection for me — this is the first flight of Discovery since I attended the launch of the STS-125 Hubble mission back in May, which means that I saw her being prepared for this mission when I visited the Orbiter Processing Facility then. It was neat to see the view of the underbelly of Discovery during launch as the External Tank separated, and remember seeing those same tiles up close earlier this year.